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The Rediff Special/Dinesh Gundu Rao

'Winning is all that ultimately matters to political parties'

M D Riti

Dinesh Gundu Rao

The public image of us now is of an unruly slogan-shouting mob," says Dinesh Gundu Rao. "All that we do is receive leaders and put up posters.

"I'd like to begin by strengthening the organisation, appointing the right people to posts and redirecting the party to examine social and economic issues seriously." This is the second son of controversial and outspoken ex-chief minister R Gundu Rao, who has just been made head of the Karnataka state Youth Congress.

Dinesh belongs to a generation of politician-sons who are rapidly gaining in prominence in Karnataka. He speaks "convent-educated" English, is a fully qualified electronics engineer, is familiar with the PC, and his starched khadi kurtas reflect a certain attention to fashion and elegance.

"I could never be as flamboyant or as charismatic as my father," he says with a disarming grin. "But I'm not trying to become his alter ego; I just want to be my own person and make my own mark in Indian politics." But Dinesh readily admits that he came into politics purely because he is his father's son.

"After my father died in 1993, his friends and supporters felt that there was definitely great scope for one of his family to enter politics in his place," he says. "My mother Varalakshmi is a very reserved housewife, my elder brother Mahesh is a quiet, soft-spoken person and my younger brother Rajesh was still a student. That left me, the most outgoing and articulate of the lot."

There was a move to make him working president of the Youth Congress way back in 1994, barely a few months after he joined the party, but Dinesh backed out when he realised that the sizeable opposition he faced was quite justified since he was rank newcomer. He was made a general secretary instead. Last year, he became vice president and his selection this time was a foregone conclusion.

Dinesh Gundu Rao with his family "My next step should be into mainstream politics at a state level," he says, leaning back in a plump sofa in his first floor apartment in his mother Varalakshmi's house in R T Nagar. Why was his mother, and not he, offered a ticket to the last two Lok Sabha polls?

Varalakshmi, of course, accepted the first time, lost by about 20,000 votes to Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar, and refused the second time. "Actually, none of us is interested in national politics at all," replies Dinesh.

"The party just announced my mother's name both times, without asking her. The first time round, the situation overtook her and she contested almost reluctantly. The next time, she was adequately prepared and said a straight no.

"I may lack the dynamism my father had," Dinesh admits readily. "But I have acquired other of his traits, like his progressive attitudes and his open-heartedness." Gundu Rao always prided himself on being a "chicken-eating Brahmin", and Dinesh is quick to point out that although his caste may work against him in a state dominated by Lingayats and Vokkaligas, he hopes that his merit will out weigh any political bias against him.

"Winning is all that ultimately matters to political parties," he says cynically. "The caste factor always plays a major role in the selection of candidates for that reason. We can preach a lot about fighting communalism, but ultimately the caste factor always wins the day."

Dinesh says politician-sons like him do have a better rapport with each other than newcomers. "We do feel a sense of kinship with each other and tend to become friends more easily than others," says Dinesh, gazing fondly at the numerous photographs of Gundu Rao that dot the house, while bouncing his two-year-old daughter Ananya on his lap. (Dinesh is married to Tabu, whom he describes as a Muslim friend of long standing that he met through friends while still in college. Neither has converted; they each follow their own religions and are perfectly comfortable with both kind of family festivities.)

The relationship that the fathers shared in politics certainly does affect the nature of their association. The sons of sworn enemies, for example, usually continue to be political foes. However, when the fathers are still alive and politically active, the sons are definitely overshadowed by them, Dinesh says.

Dinesh Gundu Rao Does the son of one of the youngest chief ministers of Karnataka think that his state is slowly deteriorating because it been ruled by old fogies for the past few years? "Age does not matter in these things," he says, sipping hot tea brought by one of numerous maid servants, while Tabu extends a graceful, bangled hand from their bedroom for her cuppa.

"Yes, people at the helm of government should be young at heart, but, more importantly, they should be committed to their parties. Both the Dal and the Congress are just riddled with infighting."

In the immediate future, Dinesh hopes to put the Youth Congress back on track in Karnataka and to give its programmes a more specific focus.

The Rediff Specials

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